Since we’re reading 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas for our August From Left to Write book club, I asked author Marie-Helene Bertino to share the books she’s currently reading. One of her books was already on my to-be-read list. Take it away, Marie-Helene!
I just finished reading Ramona Ausubel’s story collection, Guide to Being Born. I had read a few of the stories but not altogether, at once. You will note that it came out last year. I am eternally late to every reading party, but at least I am normally holding some delicious sort of fruit tart. How delicious this collection is! It is fearless, deeply felt, and wildly beautiful on the line level. Admire this line: “The whole world squirmed with hunger and desire, in the thick and thin places, in the trees and in the clearings.” It’s not often I read a collection and think: this writer has imagination coming out of his/her gesastahagen! This collection is stunning.
I’m reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I don’t think it’s ruining anything to tell you that it begins with a famous actor dying onstage in the middle of a production of King Lear. That alone would be reason enough for me to read it—I’m a former theatre kid, and a sucker for anything set amidst that eccentric and enigmatic world. In addition to that, Mandel’s reputation precedes her. I heard someone refer to Mandel as “her favorite writer.” There can many times be a difference between writers we admire and writers who are our “favorites.” I’m excited to discover the work that has inspired this kind of loyalty.
On deck is another enigmatic book, Preparing The Ghost by Matthew Gavin Frank. This book had me at “giant squid,” as the classification and documentation of marine life is endlessly fascinating to me. As a child I “classified” many “heretofore unknown marine animals” at my grandmother’s home on The Delaware Bay. By that I mean I took many walks on the sandbars with my dog, taking notes and pretending to be a marine biologist. I admire this book’s refusal to commit to a genre—it’s part fiction, part memoir, part philosophical essay, part poetry. As someone who often thinks the scrims between genres should be permeable formalities at best, I admire Frank’s scope and imagination.
Marie-Helene Bertino is the author of Safe as Houses, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Prize. An Emerging Writer Fellow at New York’s Center for Fiction, she has spent six years as an editor and writing instructor at One Story. A Philadelphia native, she currently lives in Brooklyn.